Don’t believe everything you read on a signpost

On the corner of First Street and The Promenade, right near the Long Beach Transit Center, there is a signpost pointing out the general directions of Long Beach’s Sister Cities and how many miles you’ll have to travel to reach them.

The sign is helpful up to a point, because not many people can tell you what a Sister City is, and fewer still who can name Long Beach’s five female sibling cities. Let’s all say them together: Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Qingdao, China; Sochi, Russia; Yokkaichi, Japan; and Mombasa, Kenya.

Where the Downtown signpost fails in terms of practical utility is in the distance you’ll have to travel to Qingdao: 3,610 miles, the sign maintains. I’ve looked for a shortcut, maybe through the northwest passage or an oceanic wormhole, but the distance to Qingdao from Long Beach always comes up to a little more than 6,300 miles.

In practical terms, if you were to put 3,600 miles worth of fuel into an airliner and pointed the plane toward Qingdao, your trip will end, as World War II dispatches were datelined, “Somewhere in the Pacific,” leaving you bobbing with little more than your life vest, an emergency seat cushion, and a daunting swim/paddle of some 2,700 miles with no break in the boredom other than swimming back and forth over the International Dateline, saying, “It’s tomorrow, now it’s today” before you continue on until you can enjoy the hospitality of Qingdao, the birthplace of Taoism.

The concept behind the sister city connections is to exchange information and ideas regarding all manner of things, including issues of economic, social, cultural, technological and youth concerns. It’s international networking, if you will, and it’s also a rich opportunity for city leaders and port commissioners (all of our sister cities are port towns) to go on the occasional junket in the inarguable interest of mutual benefit.

Mary E. Barton, president of the Qingdao-Long Beach Sister City Association, said Long Beach’s Public Works Department put the sign up. “It was a surprise,” she said. “It was something we’ve wanted for a very long time, but they just put it up with no advance notice to us and we weren’t involved with its design.”

According to Diko Melkonian, Environmental Services manager, the mistake was made by a contractor who transposed the 6 and the 3, resulting in the short 3,610 miles instead of the correct 6,310. The sign has been corrected.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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